By: Corinne L. Quinn

On December 1, 2011, people around the world gathered in commemoration of World AIDS Day. This event was designed to increase awareness of the AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) pandemic caused by the spread of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, attacks the immune system (which fights infections in your body). HIV is transmitted through blood, semen, and vaginal fluid. It can be passed from an infected partner to an uninfected partner during all forms of sex, from mother to child through pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding, and through sharing infected needles or other supplies for medical or drug use. HIV ultimately leads to AIDS and it can take years for a person infected with HIV to develop AIDS.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that more than 1 million Americans, of all genders and ethnicities, are now living with HIV. Moreover, 1 in 5 of these individuals are not aware of their infection and may be unaware that they are transmitting the infection to others. Of particular concern are African-Americans, who are disproportionately affected by HIV.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 16 African-American men and 1 in 32 African-American women will be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime. African-American youth represent 14% of youth ages 13-29, but they account for 50% of all new HIV infections among young people ages 13-29. Even more disturbing is the fact that while more than 900 Solano County residents are living with HIV/AIDS, 35% of them are African-American. Less access to health care and HIV testing and treatment, as well as misperceptions about personal or partner risk contribute to these astounding statistics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following to help you protect yourself against HIV/AIDS:

  • Know your HIV status. If you know you are infected, you can get treatment and protect your sexual partner(s). If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you can get treatment and protect your baby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends routine testing for everyone ages 13-64, regardless of risk. Solano County Department of Public Health offers a free rapid oral HIV antibody test. Test results are available in 20 minutes and do not require a blood sample. Testing is available at the following Solano County Department of Health and Social Services Department locations: 2201 Courage

           Drive, Fairfield, 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month 5-7 pm AND 365 Tuolumne

           Street, Vallejo, 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month 5-7 pm

  • Know the HIV status of your sexual partner(s). Encourage your partner(s) to get tested. If your partner knows he or she is infected, your partner can get treatment and protect you and others.
  • Use a male or female condom each and every time you have any form of sex with a partner who is infected or whose HIV status is unknown.
  • If you inject drugs or medicine, be sure you only use clean needles and other supplies and do not share them with others.

Sometimes, it is possible for sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) to occur at the same time, so it is recommended to get tested for other infections, if you are at risk. HIV and STI tests are available at all Planned Parenthood sites.

Corinne L. Quinn, MSPH, CHES, HC#385 is the Coordinator of the African-American Health Disparities Project, an initiative of Solano Coalition for Better Health.